Syllabus 200 S2016

Syllabus, Spring 2016

Introduction to Philosophy: “Goodness, Truth, and Beauty”
Instructor: Keith Buhler
Twitter: keith_buhler
Office Hours: Tues 12-1, Kinlaw Library by Lewis Corner.

Course Description:

This class is an exercise in a different way of thinking. We will think slowly, carefully, methodically, and deeply about important things. It is also an introduction to big ideas. We will think deeply about the world, God, death, science, logic, language, and our own selves.

Along the way, we will learn some facts of history, vocabulary words, philosophical concepts, and big names. But our main task is to think. At times, you might be confused. You will certainly be challenged.

Our method is to read, discuss, and write every week. Active reading, logical discussion, and careful writing are master skills. Thinking is useful for academics, for work, and for life. For some, our study will convince you to major or minor in philosophy. For others, it will make you better in your own discipline. For the skills you learn in philosophy apply to any profession: the top five most coveted job skills are communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and creativity, and self-discipline.

For still others, thinking well will help you in motherhood or the monastery. For all of us, we want to become more connected, integrated, thoughtful, reflective human beings. The ultimate motivation for having the conversation we call philosophy must be that it can make us better. We are also entering into the Great Conversation with our own, limited (often confused) thoughts, becoming part of the Conversation, and (by it) being forever changed.

Our goals then are:

  • To become familiar with the thought of major philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and to understand the major questions they seek to answer.
  • To read, comprehend, and evaluate difficult philosophical arguments.
  • To understand the Christian answers to questions about the meaning of life, the structure of the cosmos, the possibility of scientific knowledge, and the ground of morality.
  • To understand the Christian faith contrasted with metaphysical naturalism, nihilism, and deism.
  • To practice reflect thinking upon our own lives, beliefs, attitudes, culture, and goals.
  • To become more thoughtful human beings in the pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty.

Course Outline

The online version is always up to date. Any paper version is subject to minor changes due to weather, illness, etc. Each date tells you the reading due and the topic. Each date also includes detailed lecture notes because students asked for them to help prepare.

T Jan 12 – Syllabus
Class preview: This class will be awesome. It’s a lot of reading, so you have to work hard. But more importantly, you have to think hard. Today we’ll get to know each other and our expectations, how to get an A, etc.. I’ll give you three personal problems philosophy can (maybe) help you with.

R Jan 14 – Sophie’s World, Garden of Eden, Top Hat, the Myths, Natural Philosophers, Democritus, and Fate: Time and Cause
Sophie is asked by a mysterious stranger two key questions: who are you? Where did the world come from? We will do our best to begin answering those questions by examining two big ideas: Time and causes. Causes answer the question “why?” And time is a condition of all life on earth.

T Jan 19 – Genesis 1-5: Mythology
A myth is not a false story but a likely story. In that sense, Genesis is a myth. We’ll analyze it for its presentation of freedom, humanity, goodness, God, sin, and redemption. (Today, we assign groups and “internal/external” processors today as well.)

R Jan 21 – “Truth” and “Goodness” Handouts: Are truth and goodness objective?
All semester we will be seeking truth. To be successful, we have to know whether truth exists. We’ll examine arguments for and against the proposition that truth and goodness are real. We will also discuss the “Tao” to see examples of universal, common morality. (We’ll also go over how to do papers.)

Disputation Paper 1 will be due next Tuesday by 11:55pm. Please carefully review the “Disputation Paper” instructions online.

T Jan 26: Plato, Eutyphro; Sophie’s World, Socrates, Athens, Plato: What is Holiness? The best way to be introduced to philosophy is to be introduced to Socrates, his character, his conversation, his way of life. How do you react to him? Socrates begs a priest, Euthyphro, to explain what piety is. Socrates is on trial for impiety, so his life is on the line. Euthpyhro can’t answer. Can you?

R Jan 28 – Plato, Apology: Is Socrates Guilty?
Is Socrates’ way of life meaningful or meaningless – obedient to God or dangerous? Socrates does not “apologize” but “defends” himself (apologia, like apologetics). All of Athens, and all of history, is the jury. Is he guilty? Is philosophy a great subversive evil for the city or a great good?

T Feb 2 – Plato, Phaedo 116-143: The soul is immortal because opposites come from opposites
Plato’s Phaedo shows Socrates’ last days. Should we grieve when our friends die? Is the soul immortal? Socrates argues that the soul lives on when the body dies. The first of three arguments builds off the natural opposites, cold from hot, big from small, life from death. Is this a good argument? Why or why not?

R Feb 4 – Phaedo 143-199: The soul is immortal because we existed before we were born
Without the help of Scripture or revelation, Socrates argues the soul is immortal. He also warns against “misology” a hatred of argument that leads to skepticism and laziness. Hating the logos is perhaps a danger we begin facing at this point in the semester, too. Is the “argument from recollection” a good one? Why or why not?

T Feb 9 – Phaedo (all): The soul is immortal because it is more like forms than matter.
Socrates introduces “forms”, real beings like equality or goodness, that explain properties. Forms are contrasted with individuals, like chairs or horses. The soul is supposed to be more like forms than particulars. Is this a good argument? Why or why not?

R Feb 11 – “Forms” handout
“Equality itself” is a form. Forms are also call “universals”. Universals contrast with individuals. They explain how the same property exists in multiple things, places and times. Forms cause individuals to be what they are. “The third man” and ‘queerness’ objections will be discussed. Important forms include the One, the Good, and Soul. Are forms real entities in the world (platonic realism) or just concepts in the mind (conceptualism)?

Disputation 2 Prompt: Does the soul live on after bodily death?

T Feb 16 – “Aristotle” Handout; Sophie’s World, Aristotle: Aristotle and his Four Causes.
Aristotle was a “meticulous organizer.” He categorized thoughts into logic, knowledge into sciences, and reality into ten categories of beings. His influence extends even to today. The “four causes” of an entity are the four properties that make it what it is. For example, think about a piece of bronze (material) made into a statue of a soldier (form), by a sculpter (efficient), that marks the entrance of the city (final). What are the four causes of a human being?

R Feb 18 – “Material Causes” Handout (10 pages): Material and Final Causes
The material cause is what a thing is made of; the formal cause, its configuration. The final cause is its purpose, function, or end. Aristotle would say that scientific explanations need to give all four causes. But Bacon and Lucretius say that “scientific” explanations only give one or two causes. Descartes caused a massive change in thinking by his famous wax experiment. Are a thing’s form and purpose incidental or essential to what it is?

T Feb 23 – (No reading): Logic

  • Logic is the science of inference. We need data to make inferences. The sources of data are observation, memory, testimony, and authority. These data are the premises of arguments. Solid inferences become principles. Principles are the premises of new arguments. The most common kid of argument is a “syllogism.” Syllogisms have three statements: a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. There are three kinds of major premise: categorical, hypothetical, and disjunctive. Dilemmas and other forms of argument compound syllogisms. How does logic relate to science?

R Feb 25 – Bertrand Russell, “Free Man’s Worship” Handout: Christianity and Nihilism as worldviews
Christ as the Logos is at once creator, redeemer, and our goal. Substitutes for Christ include other gods, worldly pleasures, humans, or nothingness itself. But other gods, pleasure, and other humans are all consumed by nothingness in the end. So there are only two options: Logos or nothingness. Nothingness is mistaken by some as the origin of all things, and the conclusion — the alpha and omega — that which was, is, and ever shall be.

Watch Toy Story 3!

T Mar 1 – Toy Story 3 (Pixar Film): How do we survive devouring time?
This is a movie about devouring time. How is Andy’s relationship to Woody and Buzz changing. Also, Lotso is clearly evil. But what is his vice, or his sin? Does it have to do with his rejection of devouring time?

R Mar 3 – MIDTERM EXAM & Toy Story 3 Discussion
After the midterm, we will discuss the salvation of the toys. Who saves them, and why? Is it salvation from devouring time? What do you make of this salvation? How does Andy’s relationship to Woody and Buzz change and how does it remain?

T Mar 8 – Aquinas Handout: Can God’s existence be proven? (26 pages): Does God exist?

Aquinas is the most influential medieval philosopher. He cites Aristotle (and Plato) and Augustine almost as much as the Bible. He wrote numerous books, but his Summa Theologica is his masterpiece. He argues, in a little over 600 topics, about 3,000 disputations. The questions cover God, man, creation, evil, angels, theology, church, and the end of the world. In this first discussion we will look at his arguments for whether God’s existence can be proven – he thinks so – and the five ways of doing so.

R Mar 10 – Aquinas Handout: Is happiness the beatific vision? Today we examine Aquinas’ definition of happiness, which is the vision of the divine essence. Aristotle argued that human happiness is one object for the whole species, even though people are very different. Aquinas builds on this argument.

T Mar 15 – Spring Break

R Mar 17 – Spring Break

T Mar 22 – Augustine, Confessions chapter 1, 2, 4; Sophie’s World “Two Cultures”, “Middle Ages”
We continue our transition to medieval philosophy. The union of Athens and Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus created a new civilization: Christendom. Augustine was a key leader in this civilization. The Confessions details Augustine’s personal and intellectual struggles. It tells his conversion story and honors his mom, Monica. It concludes with philosophical explorations of time, memory, and creation. Augustine’s early error was thinking God was physical. What does this mean? Why is it an error? And how did he get corrected?

R Mar 24 – Augustine, Confessions Chapter 6, 7, 9: Does evil exist?
A major theme of the Confessions is sin and evil. Evil for both platonists and Christians and atheists is an essential component of their worldview. What is evil? Augustine’s presuppositions make this question difficult. They force him into a dilemma. God made everything that exists. Evil exists. Therefore God made it. Or Evil exists. God did not make evil. Therefore God did not make everything. Those options are intolerable. He settles on the view that evil does not actually exist. What does this mean? What is a “privation” of good? Does this notion make sense and does it make sense of active evil and suffering in our world?

Disputation 3 Prompt: Does evil existence as a substance or only as a property?

T Mar 29 – Confessions, 10, 11: Time
Augustine says he knows what time is as long as you don’t ask him what it is. When you ask him, he doesn’t know. What is the relation of time to eternity? What is time? Also, how are we to interpret Genesis in light of our philosophical understanding of time? Time is a big idea. What exactly is it? Three notions of time from Augustine, Plato, Kant. Also some poems on time.

R Mar 31 – Sophie’s World, Renaissance, Baroque, Hume, Enlightenment: The Enlightenment
Now we transition to the modern world. The Enlightenment defines America and through the U.S. much of the developed world. The core idea to help you understand the Enlightenment and counter-enlightenment is a tradition. Alasdair MacIntyre defines a tradition as “a socially-embedded argument extended through time”. Modernity is a tradition of empiricism, rationalism, skepticism, increasing atheism. Today we will work on distinguishing the Enlightenment tradition from the medieval tradition (which resembles the counter-Enlightenment) What makes Hume a modern?

T Apr 5 – Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Sections 1-3: Impressions
The foundation of Hume’s work is that knowledge is either impressions (from the present) or impressions from the past (ideas). The source of all knowledge is impressions, sensory, empirical, input from the world through our five senses, then modified by the mind and imagination in various ways to result in all our thoughts. Any thought that does not originate directly from a sensory impression is nonsense, fantasy. The upshot of this view is radical – much of our supposed knowledge is fantasy.

R Apr 7 – Hume, Enquiry Sections 5-6: Cause and Effect
Relations of ideas (necessary, analytic truths) and matters of fact (contingent, synthetic truths) are all the kinds of truth there is. Cause and effect is contingent. We do not observe causation itself, but only the constant conjunction of A and B. Our supposed “knowledge” of cause-effect, including science and everyday matters, rests on a custom, a habit, an imaginary connection. It turns out that the notion of causation – so important to Plato and Aristotle – does not come from an impression. We only see the conjunction of two events, not the cause of one by the other.

Disputation 4 Prompt: Choose: Does the idea of God arise from impressions, or recollection? OR If a miracle occurred, could we ever know it?

T Apr 12 – Hume, Enquiry Sections 7, 8, 10: Miracles
Hume’s famous argument concludes that even if miracles ever occur, we can never know that they occur. How does this argument work, and is it true? What kind of testimony (against our experience) would be sufficient to overturn our experience? Do we have experience of miracles?

R Apr 14 – Dawkins Handout: There is almost certainly no god.
Dawkins argues that everything god might be invoked to explain can be explained by a combination of the anthropic principle and natural selection. He also argues that religion and science aren’t “separate spheres” of inquiry, each sovereign with their domain. Religion and science have overlapping questions about the origin of the world, the origin of life, the teleology (or purposiveness) of the cosmos, and human nature. What is natural selection? What is the anthropic principle? And how do these two (with luck as a third) explain everything that can be explained?

Watch 2001: A Space Odyssey!

T Apr 19 – “Defense of Slow Movies” Handout; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick Film)
Is humanity evolving into something more than human?

R Apr 21 – Disputation Workshop: Create your own question!

Disputation 5 prompt: Create your own question. See instructions.

Remember: Watch Tree of Life!

T Apr 26 – The Tree of Life (Terrence Mallick Film)
Mallick’s film is, in one way, very difficult. It is not as traditional a Hollywood film. It does have a 3-act structure, but it uses poetic story-telling along with narrative storytelling. The best way to view it is to surrender to Mallick’s lead. Let him show you, let him tell you, let him make you feel, let him even disturb you… You will get more out of the film if you surrender than if you try to control and understand and analyze. That said, ask yourself: “What is the way of nature?” How isit portrayed? What is the way of grace?

R Apr 28 – The Gospel of John (21 pages) The word of God recreates the cosmos and fulfills it. How does John 1:1-2:1 re-tell the story of Genesis? What’s the big difference that Jesus makes?

Finals Week

T Disputation 5 Due.

R Reflection paper due; extra credit (optional) due; Final Exam TBA.

Scope and Sequence:

To accomplish our goals, we will work through 10 Units. Each 2 week Unit consists of (1) readings and quizzes, (2) participation through talking and writing, (3) and a disputation paper. There is a midterm and final exam.


You will be graded equally on each component, plus applicable extra credit.

Assessment category Percent of semester grade
Readings (Quizes) 25%
Participation (Talking, writing) 25%
Tests (Midterm, Final) 25%
Disputation Papers 25%
Extra Credit 3% (max)

I typically do not round up. So 89.5 is a “B”

Letter Grade Percentage
A = 99%-94% A- = 90%-93%
B+ = 87%-89% B = 84% - 86%
B- = 80% - 83% C+ = 77%-79%
C = 74% - 76% C- = 70% -73%
D = 69% - 60% F < 59%


The primary work if this class will be reading — and trying to understand — these books. I am requiring real books. This is harder but more interesting than a textbook. You’ll be reading about 3 hours a week. Read well. Read every assignment entirely. Skimming is sometimes necessary, but don’t skim every week.


Buy these books. Use these ISBNS only, please. (New or used is fine. Do not use Kindle or electronic unless the cost is prohibitive. Paper books are better for taking notes, and make it easier to stay on the same page.

Handouts, provided online

  • Genesis (Chps. 1-5)
  • Bertrand Russell “Free Man’s Worship”
  • Peter Kreeft, “Is truth objective?”
  • Peter Kreeft, “Is there a real moral law?”
  • Peter Kreeft, “Are universals real?”
  • Aristotle’s “Four Causes”
  • Lucretius, “On the Nature of Things”
  • Aquinas, “God and Happiness”
  • Edward Feser, “Can We Make Sense of the World?”
  • Richard Dawkins, “Why there is almost certainly no god”
  • Dargis, “In Defense of Slow Movies”
  • The Gospel of John (without chapters, verses, or cross-references)

Films, provided for purchase or free viewing

  • Toy Story 3
  • Matrix
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Tree of Life


A short reading quiz is due almost every class day. These assess whether you read, and how well. They are mandatory and graded. You have 10 minutes for each quiz, and they are due at the beginning of class.

Reading Tips

  • Read ahead.
  • Read carefully. You will get faster, but start slow.
  • Try to understand the book. What is the author’s main point? Is it true?
  • Dialogue with the book before class. Take notes. Email me. Talk with each other. Process your thoughts.
  • The two most important questions for each reading 1. What is the main truth claim? 2. What is the evidence?
  • Pay attention to what confuses you and what you disagree with. Bring your questions to class.
  • Read the book first, and any “Introductions” last, if at all. The introduction is often more confusing than the book.
  • Read the book first, and Sparknotes, Cliffnotes, etc. last, if at all. I want you to have your own first impression.


We need you here! Attendance is mandatory. Roll will be taken each class. (Being repeatedly or egregiously late will count as an absence.) 1 to 8 personal absences are freebies — no credit lost. 8 ABSENCES INCLUDES EXCUSED ABSENCES> 9 or more absences cause bigger and bigger deductions from your participation grade. (10 is a letter grade) You are paying for this education including this class, so why wouldn’t you make the most of it?

Participation through dialogue/writing:

This is a dialogue-oriented class. Every person is responsible to participate, through speaking and writing.

Speaking Emphasis: “External processors” emphasize talking. You will be on my “go to” team to talk in class (instead of posting reflections after class).

Writing Emphasis: “Internal procesors” emphasize writing. to earn participation points, you will post class reflections online every week. You may elect to speak in class as well, and may be called upon.

Everyone starts at an 80% for the discussion grade; you can move up from there or down, depending on whether you speak or write once per week, pay attention, and offer helpful contributions.

Come prepared. Read, take notes, reflect, and come ready to share your viewpoint, defend it, listen to others’ viewpoints, and critique theirs.

A discussion is more than just sharing opinions; it is a friendly, eager, sincere search for truth. We can’t judge each other, but we must judge each other’s opinions, and test them for truth. We discuss because it is more interesting; it helps us retain the information; it challenges our own viewpoint; and because philosophy itself is a dialogue. Discussion ground rules are posted online.


There are two exams: midterm and final. These exams will assess your knowledge of historical facts, philosophical definitions, and the ability to synthesize and apply concepts. The Study Guide is posted online.

Philosophical Disputation Papers:

Every 2 weeks or so, you will write a 400+ word disputation. Each disputation is pass/fail and worth approximately 4% of the semester grade. The instructions are posted online.

Extra Credit?

For those who may need or desire to do extra credit, there are three opportunities for extra credit. Instructions are posted online.


  1. Bring your book to every class.
  2. Participate. Participation is your responsibility; I may or may not call on you.
  3. Stay focused. Do not distract yourself with side conversations, texting, Facebook, or doing anything else in class. Take a short mental break or bathroom break if you need to, but come back. If you have an important phone call or text, please step outside the class for a moment, then return.
  4. No smart phones. Laptops/iPads must sit in front row. No other electronics, laptops, iPhones, or iPads, iPods, smartphones, etc. Unplug, listen and engage.
  5. Be respectful. Pay attention to each other. Show others respect and you will be respected in turn. Unkindness, even in the form of jokes and teasing, will not be tolerated. Come to class on time, but don’t leave (nor pack up) before we’re done.
  6. Communicate. For short, quick questions, try sending me a direct message on Twitter. Email me anytime but only between 8am-5pm Monday – Friday, or as I’m available. Include your full name and section number (I teach two sections, so I want to get your identity straight). I try to respond within two business days. If you don’t hear from me, send a reminder. Take advantage of office hours. Call, tweet, or Google Hang Out during office hours or by appointment for any question, big or small, about this course.
  7. I can accommodate you: If you have a documented disability that might require academic accommodation, please make sure you are registered with the Academic Support Program. Contact Pam Downing ( / (859) 858-3511 x2283.
  8. Make up work is not accepted after the due date, unless you obtain prior (email) permission.
  9. Enjoy philosophy. We are not merely solving abstract puzzles here, but digging deeply into human thinking in a way that could change your life forever. The more you and your fellows allow yourselves to acquire a “taste” for the material, the more inclined you will be to give it the real effort required to master it.
  10. Don’t cheat. Cheating or plagiarism will result in a zero for the assignment. Cite your sources. Unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism. Egregious instances or repeat instances will result in formal disciplinary action from the university. Also, do not intentionally take anyone else’s work nor provide your work to anyone else (under whatever auspices). Academic integrity, the embodiment of the moral and spiritual principles to which we adhere, is the essential basis of the Asbury University academic community.

Appendix on Academic Integrity

Integrity, as partially defined by the Student or Program Handbook on Community Life Expectations, is “both knowing the right thing to do and doing it regardless of the circumstances.” This definition may be applied to all of the scholastic interactions of the academic community. Every member of the community shares responsibility for maintaining mutual trust, respect, and integrity. Violations of such trust and specific acts of academic dishonesty will be subject to disciplinary action.

Academic dishonesty can be defined as any type of cheating relative to a formal academic requirement. Academic dishonesty is typically thought of first as plagiarism. Plagiarism, whether intentionally or unintentionally, occurs when credit is taken for what someone else worked hard to discover and record if there is no clarification from where or from whom information is taken. Plagiarism is the use of another’s ideas, words, thoughts, or organization without appropriate credit and documentation when used for a project, paper, presentation, or exam.

More examples of academic dishonesty include, but are not limited to: unauthorized collaborations, fabrications of data, unauthorized access to sources on an exam, excessive revision by someone other than the student, re-use of previous work without permission, and other situations described by faculty for specific purposes.

Faculty will address suspected occurrences of academic dishonesty as follows: The faculty member will meet with the student individually to discuss the incident. At the faculty member’s discretion, the department chair will either be notified of the meeting or be asked to be present for it. The student will be informed of the department chair’s involvement. At the faculty member’s discretion the student will receive a lowered grade, an F or 0% on the assignment in question. The faculty member will report the incident in writing to the Registrar who will maintain a record of academic integrity violations.If the incident is the student’s second offense of academic dishonesty as verified by the Registrar, the student will meet with the Dean of the college or school where the most recent incident occurred. At the Dean’s discretion, the student will receive an F in the course. If the incident is the student’s third offense, the student will be suspended from Asbury University.

Students desiring to appeal a determination of academic dishonesty will follow the ‘Academic Appeals Procedure’ found in the Probation, Suspension, and Appeals section of the Asbury University Bulletin, specifically item 1. A.